During the late 19th Century no area in the United States was a haven and a refuge for criminals like the Indian Territory, pre–statehood Oklahoma. The jurisdiction of this territory fell to the United States court for Western Arkansas, located at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Fort Smith, a frontier town, was located on the eastern border of the Indian Territory.
The court was the largest federal court in United States history covering over 75,000 square miles. In 1875, Judge Isaac C. Parker, was given the task of cleaning up the territory by President Ulysses Grant.
It would not be an easy task. Parker authorized the hiring of 200 deputy U.S. marshals to sweep over the territory and arrest felons and fugitives. The Fort Smith federal court never hired that many deputies to work, there were usually between twenty and thirty deputies at any one time.
One of the first of the deputies hired by Judge Parker's court was a former slave from Texas named Bass Reeves.
It is believed that Reeves fought in the Indian Territory during the Civil War with the Union Indian brigades. Reeves was known as an expert with pistol and rifle, stood about six foot, two inches, weighed 180 pounds, and was said to have superhuman strength. Reeves had a reputation throughout the territory for his ability to catch outlaws that other deputies couldn't.
He was known to work in disguise in order to get information and affect the arrest of fugitives he wanted to capture.
Reeves according to research is the only deputy on record who started working for Parker's court in 1875 and worked up to statehood in 1907. Bass Reeves worked a total of thirty–two years as a deputy U.S. marshal in the Indian Territory.
Being a former slave, Reeves was illiterate. He would memorize his warrants and writs. In those thirty–two years it is said he never arrested the wrong person due to the fact he couldn't read.
On one occasion, Reeves son, Bennie committed a domestic murder against his wife. Bass took the warrant and bought his son in for murder shortly thereafter his son convicted and sent to Leavenworth.
At the age of 67, Bass Reeves retired from federal service at Oklahoma statehood in 1907. He was hired as a city policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he served for about two years. Reeves had a beat in downtown Muskogee, during that time
it is reported there was not one crime reported on his beat. It was told by residents that Reeves while walking his beat he would have a sidekick who carried a satchel of pistols.
On January 12, 1910, Bass Reeves died at the age of 71, in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Fort Smith Historic Site was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961.